26Jan ACI speaks out on Fr. Tony Flannery controversy

The Association of Catholics in Ireland [ACI] expressed concerns in relation to the Fr. Tony Flannery case via a letter to the Irish Times on Wednesday 23 January. Unfortunately the letter has not been published to date – see text below.

In light of comments from Fr. Tony during the week which clarified the chronology of events and the role of the CDF in the controversy in recent months the ACI deemed it appropriate to address an ‘open letter’ to the Papal Nuncio which is also published below.

Letter to the Irish Times

Dear Sir,

We, the members of the Steering Group of the ‘fledgeling’ Association of Catholics in Ireland [ACI], view with great sadness the impasse which has developed between Fr. Tony Flannery and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF]. In this week of prayer for Christian Unity, when Catholics are encouraged to enter into dialogue with members of other churches, it seems extraordinary that the CDF has refused dialogue with one of our own priests. We have sympathy too for the leaders of the Redemptorists in Ireland and abroad in the dilemma in which they have been placed.

The position of the Irish bishops is not known. Since they have insisted on the right of politicians to follow their consciences in a free vote on the abortion legislation issue, surely consistency and coherence must demand that they champion the right of a priest to follow his conscience? As the present Pope, then Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote: “Over the Pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed over all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.” (Commentary on Section 16 of Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.)

We wish to express our full support for the stance of Fr. Tony Flannery in refusing to sign, under threat of excommunication, a document which would contravene his own conscience. His views may not be shared by all, but they were formed over four decades of walking with, and listening to, Irish Catholics, and as such deserve at least to be heard and discussed. We therefore appeal to the Papal Nuncio to use his good offices to facilitate a process of dialogue and reconciliation.

Yours, etc.

Jacqueline Nelson, Tony Corcoran, Patricia Higgins, Martin Murray, Cathy Molloy, Tom Curran & Noel McCann.

Association of Catholics in Ireland [ACI]


Letter to the Papal Nuncio

Dear Archbishop Brown,

As members of the Steering Group of the Association of Catholics in Ireland [ACI], we are saddened by the impasse which has developed in the case of Fr. Tony Flannery. The clarifications issued by Fr. Tony since his Press Conference last Sunday, in our view, only serve to highlight the apparent intransigence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in its dealings with priests who express an opinion contrary to that of the Congregation.

The ACI is a new association comprised of committed Irish Catholics who are deeply concerned about the future survival of our Church. We have observed quietly, over the past decade in particular, as the reputation of our Church has been gravely undermined by one damaging revelation after another. These were revelations, in the main, connected to scandalous behaviour by priests and religious, the impact of which was significantly exacerbated by – using an extremely charitable interpretation – the extraordinary ineptitude and subservience of the Irish Hierarchy. One is tempted to pose the question where was the CDF while these scandals were being grossly mis-managed by the Irish bishops? We are not aware of an individual Irish bishop being summoned to Rome to explain his actions throughout these traumatic years for our Church.

The management of Fr. Tony’s case by comparison bears all the hallmarks of the ruthless ‘efficiency’ traditionally associated with the CDF, particularly in their dealings with priests and religious who show any tendency to question the Church authorities. Many Irish Catholics who care deeply about the survival of our Church are no longer prepared to quietly accept our priests being subjected to a disciplinary process which appears to be totally lacking in any fairness and balance – the fundamental characteristics of any system of investigation which has justice as its ultimate aim. If this is an inaccurate description of the procedures used currently by the CDF in their dealing with Fr. Tony, and indeed other Irish Priests, clarification of the process being followed could contribute significantly to alleviating the anxiety felt by concerned Irish Catholics in regard to, what is perceived by many, as the unjust treatment of our priests.

We are praying and hoping that constructive dialogue between Fr. Tony and the CDF is still possible. Such dialogue, if approached in the right spirit, has the potential to resolve this impasse. We, therefore, urge you to listen to the opinions of those who have expressed views in favour of a more just approach to dealing with our priests who speak out as Fr. Tony has. As you are well aware we have a shortage of priests in our country and we can ill afford to lose the services of priests like Fr. Tony who have given a life-time of diligent and committed service to our people.

We acknowledge that your role is a very challenging one, particularly given the damage inflicted on our Church in recent decades. The consequences of this damage will not be overcome or reversed unless we all work in unison towards a new style of Church in Ireland. We as an emerging association of committed catholics are ready to play our part in the reform and renewal of the Irish Church in the years ahead in partnership with our priests and bishops. Every crisis, no matter how grave the issues involved, invariably offers opportunities for new beginnings. We believe and pray that ‘new beginnings’ will surface for our Church from a resolution of this issue.

Yours sincerely,

Association of Catholics in Ireland

[Steering Group]

9 Responses

  1. Mary O Vallely

    I fully support everything in both letters and thank the hard working members of the ACI. Bail ó Dhia ar an obair.
    (Praying this for all)
    Lord, sometimes “the spirit of fear” can dominate our lives. We place before you the self-doubt that questions if we have the necessary ability to deal with the pressures of life. We embrace your grace that enables us to experience power, love and self-discipline to face the storms of life and navigate them in such a way that we are neither shipwrecked or drowned. Help us, Lord, not to live small or to settle for routine because we underestimate you. With a heart filled with gratitude, we will live this day for you.

    —The Jesuit Prayer Team

  2. John Dwyer Kirwin

    I am grateful that the Spirit has raised up women and men of the caliber of those who composed, and stand behind the letter directed to Charles John Brown the nuncio to Ireland on behalf of Tony Flannery. Surely they are committed to the truth of Jesus Christ and are a credit to the Church in Ireland. God speed from the U.S. of A.

  3. June McAllister

    I know it’s early days, but are there other people in the Tuam, Castlebar, Claremorris, Charlestown etc., areas who want to be supportive members of the Association of Catholics in Ireland? It would be good to form a group for prayer, discipleship and discussion.

  4. Jerry Slevin

    Thank you, ACI. Tony Flannery is being used as a “scapegoat” to distract from the Vatican’s failure to address the unresolved and failed autocratic structure of Irish Catholicism.

    Vatican Cardinals, mostly Italian, and the German Pope operate like monarchists. They operate as if it is the year 1700 and the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Easter Rebellion never happened.

    It looks like Irish Catholics alone will have to save the Church again. This time, thanks to the Internet, they have the support of worldwide Catholics, including this New York lawyer and proud son of Donegal Catholics. We are with you and with Tony and the ACP!

  5. Henrietta O'Meara

    I wish to offer my support and gratitude to the ACI Steering Group. Your letters express clearly, reflectively and respectfully, the thoughts and concerns of many people who are committed to and deeply concerned about the current reality of the Irish Church. I concur with every word expressed. I also hope and pray for greater dialogue in these difficult days.

  6. Jo O'Sullivan

    On another thread, Eddie Finnegan suggested that a real letter, such as the above, with real signatures would be a much more effective form of protest than the anonymous e-petition that is on the Avaaz site.
    With that in mind, I would be at the top of the queue (fighting to get there, I suspect!) to sign the ACI’s letters to the Times and to the Nuncio.
    I am deeply grateful to the Steering Committee for this letter and for all they do to keep up the impetus for transformation within our church.
    As for the e-petition, does anybody know why it hasn’t come in as a general Avaaz email? I get petitions from them on an almost daily basis, but the We Are Church one was only forwarded to me by WAC.
    Have the tentacles of the CDF reached as far as Avaaz and put a stranglehold on them?

  7. Shay Kelly

    All this seems very reminiscent of the dark period of the modernist crisis (1907). During this period some of the most ardent Catholics came under suspicion in Rome and had their works put on the Index of Forbidden books, some priests had their priestly faculties removed and other religious were expelled from their orders and ultimately excommunicated. Among those under suspicion were some of the church’s most original philosophers and theologians such as Maurice Blondel and Friedrich von Hügel, the French Jesuit Henri Bremond, and his co-frère and probably the greatest Irish theologian of the past century, Fr.George Tyrrell S.J. whose priestly faculties were removed, then was expelled from the Jesuits, excommunicated and denied a Catholic burial. Last, but by no means least, Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXXIII also came under suspicion in Rome.

    During the modernist period the label ‘modernist’ was the theological equivalent of today’s ‘terrorist’. A repressive ghetto mentality prevailed and under the banner of ‘Integralism’ the so-called defenders of integral Catholic orthodoxy wrought terrible deeds. There thus began a period of journalistic terrorism, espionage and secret delations. Fear reigned within theological circles and no one was safe. A card written by the young Angelo Roncalli, while he was secretary to Bishop Radini Tedeschi at Bergamo, to his fellow-student Ernesto Buonaiuti, was intercepted by the Holy Office and the Bishop was ordered to keep a careful eye on his secretary. Later when Roncalli became Pope he reminded Cardinal Ottaviani of this, when as Pope John XXIII he was unwilling to meet Ottaviani’s request to sign a decree of the index.

    And although attempts have been made to shield Pope Pius X from any direct involvement in the anti modernist witch hunt it has become obvious from Émile Poulat’s, Intégrisme et Catholicisme Intégral (Paris: Casterman, 1969,) that Pius X approved and subsidised the programme of Integralists.

    So long as the authorities’ solutions remained on the level of power politics and battling another ‘ism’ the underlying substantive issues were never tackled and consequently remained insoluble. The prohibitions, condemnations and repressive actions only postponed the day of reckoning. For decades the fear of modernism hindered church renewal. With Roncalli’s election in 1958 a new era began, especially when within 90 days of his election the new Pope John XXIII announced the convening of an Ecumenical Council. But the possibility of a Catholic revival had been postponed at least 50 years.

    Now, more than a century on, one realises that the authorities’ “politics of heresy” enabled the church to avoid facing the real issues of modernity and, through displacement, scapegoat a token group of ‘dissidents’ within and an abstract heretical system they themselves had erected. In repressing novel ideas and re-establishing the status quo, the hierarchy’s approach may have offered an illusion of victory over the ‘evil’ forces of modernity, but, not forgetting the causalities it wrought, it achieved very little and, in postponing the necessary renewal, it fueled the continual decline and the growing chasm between the Church and the Modern World.

  8. Brendan Cafferty

    I full support all those people above in their concern about the treatment of Tony Flannery. This case will, I feel be a turning point for many Irish Catholics,depending on how it is resolved. Imagine a man of Tony Flannery’s stature not being allowed to resume his priestly ministry ever again.

  9. Phil Rogers

    Has Nuncio passed the letter to CDF? What is Fr. Tony’s status now?

    Can he still speak out for those of us who see little future for the RC Church if Rome will not listen to the people?